What is the Work Addcition Syndrome

Today’s business executives are faced with complex challenges surrounding what I call “Life Balance” choices. This dynamic has become one of great concern in assessing both the physical and mental health of today’s executive in the workplace. The multitude of serious problems directly resulting from workaholism or “the work addiction syndrome” are neither gender specific nor industry specific. In short, this problem is affecting corporations, organizations, and talented individuals from every occupation and industry.
In providing executive assessments and treatment strategies, (called “Corporate Coaching”) in the workplace of the nineties, I have advised and consulted with executives throughout the United States and many countries worldwide. As you read this article and feel this information may apply to you, don’t feel alone, you are in good company! Many of my clients are of the highest caliber, talented people in their companies. Work addiction syndrome is not a result of will power, lack of talent, education, morals or family values. In many instances, the executives affected by this dysfunction are not even aware of the nature of the problem. What they are aware of, is that life is not fun anymore, and they are being affected both at work and at home.
In some instances, the many accomplishments resulting from his/her addictive work patterns unfortunately do not satisfy the executive. The work addict is driven to perform even harder and accomplish even more due to the inability to relax, feel, and smell the scent of today’s success. These intense work schedules and associated behaviors can be symptomatic of underlying issues, insecurities, and a skewed self-image. In many instances, the workaholic behaviors are self imposed, but not based on an accurate perception of oneself. The work addict can also use work much like the alcoholic uses liquor to self medicate, manage, control and avoid feelings.


It is important to differentiate between someone who has a “Type A” personality and is an extremely hard worker, and someone who demonstrates the characteristics of the work addiction syndrome. The Type A worker appears like he/she is a workaholic, yet they always demonstrate the ability to set healthy boundaries when needed. When the work addict gains the insight into his/her unhealthy patterns, they demonstrate a “loss of control” or an inability to self regulate their schedule and set healthy limits. In spite of serious negative consequences, the individual suffering from work addiction syndrome will continue to act out the negative pattern affecting their life.
Consistent with other addictions, denial can play a major factor in the work addicts ability to reach out for help. The denial factor can prevent the impaired executive from seeing or experiencing the reality of his/her life. They have an altered perception when it applies to this area of their life. In many instances, the workaholic possesses an over developed, “sense of self” as it applies to their career. The executive’s career takes on the importance of defining who they are, not what they do.


Unfortunately, in today’s corporate environment, many times the work addict is encouraged, supported and compensated for these unhealthy patterns. When we take time to look beneath the surface of work addiction, the corporate price tag for this dysfunction can be very costly. In many cases, the company or organization is unaware of the serious impairment the executive may be experiencing. What looks like someone who is dedicated and acting on behalf of the company, may indeed be someone who is out of control and cannot stop working until they experience serious consequences. At the point of management recognizing this workaholic type behavior, it will serve everyone to help this person receive the appropriate help. He or she will be a much more productive, valuable employee in the future.

In today’s world of buyouts, mergers, takeovers, downsizing, etc., it is not unusual to find businesses and/or organizations unknowingly encouraging and supporting work addiction. Many of our largest corporations are either uninformed or in denial of the serious problems incurred as a direct result of this syndrome gone untreated. These problems can range from low morale, substance abuse, excess stress, workplace harassment, various personal problems, (i.e. divorce), and above average absenteeism. This dynamic can ultimately create a state of tension and chaos in the workplace. Employees affected by this behavior will often describe feelings associated with “living on the edge” in the work environment of the work addict or the addicted organization.
Assessing the life balance component for any executive can provide extremely valuable insight into his/her personal and professional life. Samples of key questions commonly used in evaluating for the work addiction syndrome are as follows;


1. How much time do you spend working, and how much time do you spend with family, friends, etc.? Is your work schedule causing problems in your family or social life?

2. Do you feel out of control or powerless at times when it comes to setting limits, going home, or quitting work for the day?

3. Are you having a difficult time enjoying the “fruits” of your labors, in spite of the financial success or being respected and admired in your company or industry?

4. Do you break promises to yourself, family, or friends regarding work time, travel schedules, and other related employment activities?

5. Do you have difficulty “letting go” and delegating work?

6. Has your work patterns affected intimate friendships, and/or important social activities you once enjoyed such as vacations, fishing, sports, museums, reading?

7. When on vacation, is it difficult to relax and disengage from work, therefore interrupting or contaminating your vacation time with family or friends? (Phone calls, laptop, pagers)

8. Has your physical health deteriorated due to an excessive work schedule? Have you continued to “push the needle into the red” in spite of warnings from your doctor, psychologist, colleague, or boss?

9. Have you surprised yourself at how easy you “fly off the handle” or “lose it” these days? Are people in your life having to “tip toe” around you due to this volatility? Is this different than you use to be?

10. Have you unsuccessfully attempted to cut down or stop from overworking, over committing, staying at the office, etc. Promising to spend more time at home, going to the gym or golf course, and not following through.

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may be suffering from the Work Addiction Syndrome. If so, it is extremely important not to attempt to treat this on your own without help. The objectivity, support and recommendations available from working with an experienced professional will be invaluable. The person affected by any type of addiction is typically too close to the problem to have their own answers. The biggest step is admitting there is a problem and making that confidential telephone call.

Author's Bio: 

James Fearing, Ph.D., C.C.D.P., President and CEO, National Counseling Intervention Services (NCIS), Incorporated.

Dr. Fearing specializes in working with individuals, families, professional athletes and corporations in the areas of education, prevention, crisis intervention, team building and corporate coaching.

Dr. Fearing can be contact at the following locations:

Telephone 1-800-279-3321 or 612-512-0000
Fax: 612-512-0099 or Email: drfearing@nationalcounseling.com

Web Site:
13911 Ridgedale Drive, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55305